What’s the next step for a Vuelta a España champion? The Tour de France, of course.
At least, that’s according to Tadej Pogačar.
The two-time yellow jersey wants to see Remco Evenepoel toeing the Basque start of the Tour de France next summer after being impressed by the Belgian’s barnstormer grand tour victory this month.
“I followed almost the entire Vuelta on TV,” Pogačar told Belgian media Sunday. “It was a strong performance from Evenepoel. He has proven that he can handle grand tours. I thought the way he handled it was smart.”
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Pogačar backed up his own breakout ride to third on debut at the 2019 Vuelta a España with a turnaround victory at the pandemic-era Tour.
Now he wants to see his latest and greatest rival try similar.
“If you win the Vuelta, you have to come to the Tour. That is a logical next step,” Pogačar said after he rode to sixth at the world championship time trial. “If everyone rides the Tour next year, it will be very interesting.”
Will it happen?
But will their paths cross at the Tour de France in 2023?
Doesn’t look likely.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl chief Patrick Lefevre already indicated the Giro d’Italia would take the center of Evenepoel’s season next year.
“If it’s down to me then I’d say let’s go one by one, so Vuelta, then Giro and then Tour,” Lefevere told VeloNews. “If it’s down to me then next year it would be the Giro.”
Rumors of up to 70 time trial kilometers across three stages in next year’s Italian tour would see Evenepoel – who won his second bronze worlds time trial medal Sunday – in the driving seat against all his grand tour opponents bar Primož Roglič.
Pogačar meanwhile vowed to return to the Tour to take on Jonas Vingegaard, and so would likely bypass the grueling mountains and tough climate of the Giro.
The Slovenian already spoke of his desire to go up against a full VIP Gen-Z cast including riders like Evenepoel, Vingegaard, and Egan Bernal, but he may need to wait a little longer.
If not 2023 … then soon
Pogačar and Evenepoel are pedaling a similar path.
Both have monument, grand tour, and stage race victories on their scorecard and haven’t even broken out of the “young rider” category just yet. The two are separated by just 15 months and were both making WorldTour hay before they hit their 20s.
Evenepoel even referenced the Slovenian in his post-Vuelta conference as a template rider as he tries to balance goals in the hilly classics and grand tours.
Yet intriguingly, Pogačar and Evenepoel haven’t shared a startline that many times.
One stage race head-to-head at Tirreno-Adriatico this spring saw Pogačar take Evenepoel apart in the crucial mountain stage and dominate the full week, but Evenepoel has the upper hand in one-day racing and TTs.
Evenepoel riding the Giro next season could ripple through to his Ardennes ambitions. A “clash of the Liège titans” may be off the agenda if Evenepoel follows a stripped-down spring focused on pre-Giro altitude camps rather than classics racing.
Pro cycling’s latest budding rivalry will be given some rare opportunity to bloom at the Wollongong worlds road race this coming weekend. Evenepoel will co-captain a bristling Belgian team against Pogačar’s underdog Slovenian squad.
Make the most of Sunday’s race, because no matter how much they want it, Evenepoel and Pogačar aren’t racing together that often right now. But at 22 and 23 years old, we’ve got a decade of dust-ups to look forward to in the future.